Wash your hands with soap and warm water and dry them thoroughly. Cover you mouth when you cough. Use hand sanitizer. If your child has a fever over 100 degrees, keep them home until it has broken for 24 hours without using medication.
This is part of the message that school officials and health department workers are preaching to parents, teachers, students and the general public in regards to the spread of the H1N1 virus in Whitley County.
Last week, Whitley County Superintendent Lonnie Anderson and Gail Timperio, Public Health Director at the Whitley County Health Department, sent a recorded message to parents through the district’s One Call system.
"Our concern was to make sure that the students, who contacted the flu were properly cared for and to prevent other students and staff members from getting the flu," said Anderson, who himself is recuperating from the regular variety of the flu.
Timperio said the notice came about after school nurses reported that students were either coming to school sick or with a fever.
"We knew we had some reportable flu cases so Lonnie Anderson and I got together and talked about it and decided it might be a good idea to get that prevention message out there," she said.
"This might be a difficult year for the flu. Since we don’t have any immunity or a lot of immunity, especially in our school age children so we went ahead and just recorded that message, which focused on the hand washing and covering coughs and that kind of thing."
Timperio said that it is also important for parents to keep their children at home if they are running a fever.
"CDC is recommending that if a child is running a fever over 100, then to make sure they stay at home until they are fever free for at least 24 hours," she said.
Anderson said that absentee rates are 2.5 to 3 percent higher than what school officials normally see during the first week of school. Both students and staff have been sick.
"We do have a few cases of influenza in every school. Whether it’s H1N1, who knows. You have to be cautious with the regular flu too," Anderson said.
Timperio said that it is difficult to say how many cases of the H1N1 virus have been diagnosed in Whitley County because many samples are no longer being sent for testing.
The Department for Public Health (DPH) is primarily interested in testing pregnant women with severe flu symptoms, people hospitalized with those symptoms or the first case in an institution like a nursing home, she said.
Another factor is that medical providers aren’t required by law to report flu screening results to the health department although some are doing so voluntarily, Timperio said.
"I am really hesitant to say that we have ‘X’ number of cases because we just don’t know. I don’t want to underestimate the number of cases we have but I definitely don’t want to overestimate it either," Timperio said.
She said the health department is focusing on the fact that it knows there are H1N1 cases in Whitley County and that it is circulating.
"It may not be widely circulating, but it doesn’t mean that it won’t so we need to practice prevention that is just all there is to it," Timperio said. "It is just like any flu. It is going to circulate."
She said that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Public Health are advising health departments to consider any positive flu screenings as H1N1.
"Typically this time of year you don’t see those seasonal flus pop up like this. So we were just told that if there is a positive flu to assume it is H1N1 type A," Timperio said.
"We are going to see more and more. We are just not getting those confirmed at the state laboratory because they would be overwhelmed if they were trying to confirm all the flu cases."
Timperio said that a lot of research is still being conducted to determine how the H1N1 virus is different than the regular flu.
She said a lot of healthier adults might not see any difference between H1N1 and the regular seasonal flu.
"They might spend a few days recovering and then feel fine," Timperio said.
The concern is small children, especially infants and pregnant women, that have lower immunity.
"They just don’t have any protection or immunity against this flu. Those are the very groups that seem to have the worst complications if something is going to happen because of that lower immunity," she said.
"We just have to protect those groups even though you or I might recover very quickly from that flu, we have to be very protective of all the groups that might not because of the lower immunity, like people with chronic disease."
Anderson said that health department officials met with school principals and administrators prior to the start of school to review procedures from sanitizing schools and preventing the spread of the flu and other bugs.
The district currently has hand sanitizer in all the schools. It has also purchased Clorox Wipes and other sanitizers for teachers, custodians, and bus drivers to use.